Saturday, 15th March, 2014. Whale freed from entanglement off St James Beach.
At 08h20 on Saturday the 15th of March, 2014 members of the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) were activated following eye-witness reports of a whale appearing to be in distress off St James Beach on the False Bay Coast, Cape Town.
Members of SAWDN responded to the land side in an NSRI sea rescue vehicle while NSRI Simonstown responded their sea rescue craft Eddie Beaumont II with SAWDN equipment, that is housed at NSRI Kommetjie and at the Shark Spotters, was taken to Simonstown Harbour where the private boat AWESOME carrying SAWDN members was launched carrying the SAWDN Disentanglement equipment.
On arrival on-scene it was found that a juvenile Southern Right Whale, estimated to be under a year old, was well trapped 600 meters off St James Beach by rope from Welk Traps. The whale was distressed and it appeared to be entangled fast under water and struggling to get above water to catch its breath.
Dave Hurwitz, of SAWDN, said that two lines were found to be keeping the whale trapped under water forcing the young animal to lunge itself up to get enough above water to gasp for air before being pulled back down by the rope lines that appeared to leave no room for movement.
Initial hopes that the whale was tired, which would have made it easier to use the disentanglement equipment, were dashed by the spirit of the whale which appeared to be fresh, lively and full of energy and purposefully lunging itself to get above water to gasp for air and in obvious distress by its entrapment.
After a brief initial assessment and finding 5 ropes entangled around the tail and one rope entangled around the head, with a laceration of the lip, visible rope marks around the body, and a laceration around the perdunkle (tail stock) a rope was cut by the SAWDN team about a meter from the tail and this enabled the whale to become mostly disentangled (as the whale was now able to rotate its body a lot of the rope automatically became disentangled) but it was then noticed a second rope was trapping the whale and when cut by the SAWDN team the whale became completely free of its entanglement.
It appeared, said Dave, that at first the whale continued to thrash about giving us the impression that it did not know that it had been cut free. A short while later the whale seemed to realise that it was free and it swam off confidently.
More rope was noticed on the tail but it seems that this rope naturally disentangled itself and fell free.
The SAWDN volunteers continued to monitor the whale for a while and it seemed to be healthy and swimming along strongly.
Later, eye-witnesses reported seeing a juvenile Southern Right Whale swimming in the area in the vicinity of Murdoch Valley and SAWDN volunteers are confident that this is the same whale.
The operation to free the whale was completed by about midday.
Pictures are available on Sea Rescue’s Flickr page.
THE SA WHALE DISENTANGLEMENT NETWORK IS A SPECIALIZED NETWORK OF VOLUNTEERS SET-UP IN 2006 TO DEAL WITH THESE TYPES OF SITUATIONS AND COMPRISES VOLUNTEERS – FROM NSRI, THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS – OCEANS AND COAST, SA NATIONAL PARKS, CAPE NATURE, THE SA POLICE SERVICES, VARIOUS AQUARIUMS from around South Africa, THE NATAL SHARKS BOARD, BAYWORLD, VARIOUS OTHER ORGANISATIONS AND VOLUNTEERS, with the support of the Dolphin Action and Protection Group (DAPG).
SAWDN COVERS THE ENTIRE SA COASTLINE.